| Juan Carlos Ferrero (seen in front of the Arc de Triomphe) said he produced the ‘perfect’ tennis to win his first Grand Slam title on Sunday. (Reuters)
Juan Carlos Ferrero proved that he is the finest player on clay when he outclassed Martin Verkerk to win the French Open at Roland Garros Sunday.
For Verkerk, the plucky, unseeded, six-foot-five Dutchman, it was a match too far. Although he briefly threatened to make a match of it in the second and third sets, his power was not enough to make more than a minor dent in Ferrero’s skilful and stylish control.
The Spaniard, nicknamed “Mosquito” because of his speed about the court and a relatively modest physique, kept biting the heavy-hitting Verkerk with his relentless authority from the back of the court.
His 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 triumph in 128 minutes would have been even more convincing had Ferrero taken more than seven of his 26 break points.
As Verkerk put it: “He may not have played his best tennis today, because of the wind, but I couldn’t do anything about his pressure.”
In a way, this first Grand Slam success for Ferrero was a triumph delayed. He was almost as big a favourite going into last year’s final against fellow Spaniard Albert Costa but his mobility was seriously restricted by an ankle injury.
“I’ve always believed I could win Roland Garros. Right now I think I can win here more times,” said Ferrero, who says he now has his sights not only on Wimbledon but also the Grand Slam.
Ferrero, who kept opening up the court with his solid serving to put away exquisite forehands or taunt Verkerk with perfect drop shots, said he had played “a wonderful week, with only one match going to five sets and all the others in three”.
The world No 3, who leapt into the players’ box to greet family and friends after dropping to his knees at the moment of victory, said: “It’s a great feeling to have won the trophy you most wanted to win.”
The contrast in styles at least provided some colour to a contest that never promised much drama from the moment Ferrero, standing eight feet behind the baseline to attack 125mph serves, broke Verkerk in the 10-minute opening game. The fact that the rest of the set lasted only another 25 minutes emphasised how swiftly and securely Ferrero took charge.
Verkerk, who had to save a match point in the second round against Luis Horna, had served his way to major upsets against Australian Open runner-up Rainer Schuttler, former French champion Carlos Moya and Andre Agassi’s conqueror, Guillermo Coria.
He was pinning his hopes on being able to do the same Sunday, though for once the serve too often misfired. He frequently struggled to hold and was broken seven times, whereas, for the most part, Ferrero held comfortably.
The one possible chance for a player who has soared from 180 in the rankings 18 months ago to well inside the top 20 (probably 15th) came when he was serving for 3-1 in the second set. After having a game point, he hit three consecutive errors, the last of them a double fault.
“My serve was not going well today,” Verkerk admitted.
“Forty-seven per cent, that’s not good enough. My length of shot wasn’t good enough, my volleys weren’t good enough.” What was good enough, though, was his “fighting”, he added.
Why the problems' “It was all down to Ferrero,” he said.
“I knew I needed to serve well and be aggressive throughout but he was too good for me. I was always a step behind the fact.”
At the same time Verkerk will be remembered as a most welcome and animated new face of men’s tennis at a time when the game is crying out for characters with personality as well as skill, and few will want to be among his earliest opponents at Wimbledon, even though it will be only the second tournament he has played on grass.
His sense of humour is as appealing as his approach. Told that Karen Mulder, one of Holland’s best known actress-models, was watching, he said: “So there was something good about today and I didn't see it.”